Thank Frankel it's Friday: Nürburgring lap records – why does anyone care?

03rd March 2017
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

How many times have you seen manufacturers claim a new lap record for a particular kind of car at the Nürburgring, and groaned at the sheer irrelevance of it all? James May was probably the first person to wonder who on earth cared about this sort of stuff, and now knocking the Nürburgring lap record is as popular a sport as breaking it.

So who does care? Well, dear reader, I do. Just a bit. Ok, I couldn’t give a damn about which two-tonne SUV goes fastest around any race track any more than I’d care which F1 car was best at towing a horsebox: that is not what these things are for. But when I discovered earlier this week that a Lamborghini had not just broken the production car lap record but shattered it, I had to find out more, read the release, watch the video. For this was not some new Lambo hypercar, nor even its Aventador flagship but the forthcoming ‘Performante’ version of the Huracan. And it’s just gone five seconds faster than a Porsche 918. 

I’ll admit that part of my fascination is that, twenty-something years after I first went to the Ring, I still love watching cars on the limit there and when a car is going for the record, there is another dimension. Was what Lamborghini test driver Marco Mapelli thinking as he blasted over the old start line and into the Hatzenbach for the first time, knowing he had just one lap left in the day to do the time, and that Lambo boss Stefano Domenicali was waiting back in the pits? Was this just another few minutes in the office, was it fun, was it terrifying and just how much pressure was he under?

There are more prosaic reasons too: say what you like about the Nürburgring but of all the places I’ve raced, it’s the one that’s most like the public road of our dreams, which is why manufacturers across the spectrum test here. A sports car that feels good around the Ring will likely feel good on the open road too, an important point the naysayers too quickly forget.

Another part is analysing the lap and seeing whether it could be materially improved, and that’s one of the most staggering things about this lap: it was good, but it wasn’t perfect. Not every apex was clipped and from time to time he’s understandably having a bit of a wrestle with it. But that’s what happens when you put everything out there, and you can’t argue with the results.


But my real interest as an observer, driver and sometime racer of cars at the old Nürburgring is to see not how fast this car went, but how it went fast. And here the video is extraordinary. For it reveals that the highest speed the Huracan reached was 188mph, in the usual place just after the bridge on the main straight. That might sound quick but really it’s not. The last time Lamborghini set a lap time here it was the same driver in an Aventador SV and in exactly the same spot he was doing 202mph, yet when he crossed the line, the time was nearly 8sec slower than he went in the new Huracan. Eight seconds! Even around a lap as long as this, that’s a whole chunk of time.

In fact, the Huracan lapped in 6 minutes and 52 seconds, and if you’d like an idea of how fast that is, it would have qualified Signor Mapelli in seventh place for the last 1,000km race to be held on the old ‘Ring in 1983. That’s seventh out of 38 competitors and quicker than at least one Group C Porsche 956, a then state of the art pure prototype racing car with full ground effect bodywork and immense slick tyres…

So I had another look and could barely believe what I was seeing. The apex speeds are simply stunning and the car’s poise was such that Mapelli could turn left and absorb the compression at the bottom of the Foxhole without the merest hint of a lift, flat to the floor at over 160mph. So the car has a bucketload of downforce, but its performance in slower turns is relatively no less impressive, so it must be producing enormous mechanical grip too. Lamborghini says it worked closely with Pirelli to develop the Trofeo R tyres used during the attempt and I’d love to know how many laps of that treatment they’d tolerate: given the grip they’re giving they appear to be made of out of chocolate.

But in all this excitement there is the worry that one day it will all go terribly wrong, as it has when people have felt the pressure to push too hard at the Nürburgring many times before. McLaren says it’s the reason it never published a time for the P1, content to say only that it went under seven minutes and, on balance, I believe it. Ferrari has never even alluded to a lap time for the LaFerrari. Cracking the Nürburgring lap record has become not just a matter of pride and proving the performance of your car, but a powerful marketing weapon and publicity tool and I know cars are being developed with that specific aim in mind. I hope they are careful about what they wish for.

  • andrew frankel

  • Lamborghini

  • huracan

  • Performante

  • nurburgring

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